Top 5 Nole vs. Rafa: No. 4, 2011 U.S. Open Final
When it comes to this year's French Open, there are two clear favorites on the men's side: Novak Djokovic, winner of the last three Grand Slam tournaments, and Rafael Nadal, the six-time and defending Roland Garros champion. Whether they'll collide in Paris remains to be seen, but the two 25-year-olds have given us a career's worth of classics already. Richard Pagliaro counts down his top five this week.
No. 4: 2011 U.S. Open Final
Djokovic d. Nadal, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1
Empowered by the shared belief that no shot was beyond reach, Djokovic and Nadal combined the speed of sprinters with the flexibility of gymnasts during some of the many awe-inspiring exchanges in the 2011 U.S. Open final. Seeking to snap a five-match losing streak to his rival, Nadal served for a 3-0 opening-set lead, only to see a focused Djokovic reel off six straight games to seize control.
The world No. 1 served for the match at 6-5 in the third set, only to see the defending champion dig in, break back and extend the match after a tiebreaker. At that point, the capacity crowd (Jay-Z, Beyonce, Ben Stiller, and Alec Baldwin were all on hand) began to buzz at the prospect of a potential five-setter and Monday night madness in New York. But after taking an ominous injury time-out to treat a back strain, Djokovic proceeded to quiet the crowd and quell the threat. The Serbian’s court positioning closer to the baseline and his penetrating return game—he converted 12 of 27 break-point chances, while Nadal cashed in on six of 14 break-point opportunities—were key components in collecting his fourth career Grand Slam championship.
“The problem is, I didn’t have any free points [on serve],” Nadal said afterward. “The serve didn’t help me. I didn’t start the points with an advantage with my serve…A lot of times I started the point in the worst position than him when I was serving. So that’s tough.”
Djokovic, who saved two match points against Roger Federer in a gripping five-set semifinal, became the sixth man in the Open Era to claim three major championships in a single season, achieving the feat a year after Nadal did it himself.
“It really seems unreal,” said Djokovic, wearing a blue FDNY baseball cap during the trophy presentation. “I think most of the strokes are the same that they were in the last two, three years. I’m going for it, I’m more aggressive.”